What do we need evidence for?

Updated: Aug 4

How exactly do we use evidence in decision making CHEW Trustee and Director of Salisbury Kuczkowska Consulting, David Salisbury shares his thoughts .


Decisions, decisions… We have to make them all the time. Some are simple and some are hard and I think there are many different types. Right now, as organisations work out both their response to COVID and also the implications of the crisis for them, many in the third sector are making them thick and fast.


As with the rest of the series, this blog isn’t about COVID – but I do think organisations have a lot of decisions coming up and those working in evidence roles will need to be able to recognise what type of evidence is most useful to support them.


In my last blog I talked about the term evidence and it’s role in decision making. Here I’m going to continue the language theme and begin to build a common framework for describing different types of evidence centred around what we need it for.


In my experience, it can often be the case that we set out to provide evidence for one type of decision only to find out that what we really needed was evidence for something completely different. This can often come down to an inability to articulate clearly the purpose that we need the evidence for / the type of question we are addressing. I think decisions can fit into one of five, very broad types.

  1. Definition decisions – where we are identifying what broad issues, opportunities or groups of people we should prioritise

  2. Understanding decisions – where we are looking in a bit more depth at the issue, opportunity or group of people that we have prioritised to build a richer picture

  3. Development decisions – where we are looking at what has been provided / delivered before and how well that delivers on our understanding of the issue, opportunity or group of people

  4. Testing decisions – where we are considering what worked, for who and in what circumstance and what we have learned through trying new things

  5. Monitoring decisions – where we are making decisions on whether approaches / services / products are continuing to perform as they were intended

These categories of decisions when read out loud or written down in black and white sort of work sequentially. However, most organisations and partnerships are much more fluid environments and operate in a messy world. So rather than thinking of these categories as sequential (you make a definition decision, then you make a understanding decision and so on), I prefer to think of them more simply as categories of decisions that you might find yourself within at any given point.


In reality those operating in the third and public sectors will need to work out what type of decision they are facing at that point, rather than being able to methodically plod through a nicely lined up sequential process. This means that those providing evidence will often need to be able to work out the type of decision required and what questions we need answers to in order that any decision can be better informed.


There are different questions that we would need to ask within each of these different categories and these questions – or questions similar to them – can help us understand what types of evidence can provide us with more or less confidence when making decisions.



So, to sum up:

  • There are different categories of decisions.

  • It’s important to be clear about what type of decision you are taking in order to ensure that the evidence suits the purpose

  • There are different questions that help us in each of these different categories of decisions, I’ve provided some examples above but this is not exhaustive

  • These questions can help us when thinking of the specific types of evidence that might help to make us more or less confident that we have the information we need

My blogs so far in this series have focused on finding a common language and understanding of evidence and it’s role in decision making. My next blog will continue on this theme, putting forward a suggestion for what can help us feel more or less confident in the evidence available to make decisions in each of these categories.


*There’s lots of questions one could ask under “testing”. I’ve taken these headliners from the new version of the Magenta Book – which is good. There’s a helpful table (2.2) on page 31 which expands on these questions with a bunch more.


This blog series has been reproduced with permission from Dave Salisbury's personal blog . You can follow Dave for further updates here


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